If your children are handicapped in any way, don't let this discourage you from introducing them to the world of books in your community library. The Americans With Disabilities Act, which took effect in early 1992, requires facilities and services regularly used by the public to be accessible to the more than 43 million Americans who are deaf, blind, use wheelchairs, or are otherwise physically or mentally disabled. Even before this act, most public libraries eliminated barriers to physically disabled individuals and many offered programs specially designed to serve people, including little ones, who are developmentally disabled, hearing-impaired, blind, or physically disabled.
The kinds of library services vary greatly for children who have learning disabilities or who are mentally retarded. To find out what's available in your area, the best starting point is your local public library. If its programs do not address the special needs of your children, perhaps the librarian can refer you to other area libraries that do. Or, perhaps you can work with library staff to help meet your children's needs. Ask if they have seen the materials for library professionals working with youngsters who have learning difficulties, recently published by the Association for Library Services to Children (see "For More Information").
As more mentally retarded individuals are living outside of institutions and in the community, more libraries are working to integrate them into their programs.
In some places there are successful programs, such as book talks and storytelling, carefully designed to suit the interests and developmental levels of mentally retarded children, as well as bibliographies of books to use with these children. If such services do not exist in your community, check with the local chapter of the Association for Retarded Citizens, a group home director, special education teacher, or your state library. While developmentally disabled youngsters may need special help, they have much to gain through reading and using library resources. So, it's well worth your extra effort to let library personnel know about your children's special needs and abilities.
Hearing-impaired children, of course, have different communication needs. Helping your hearing-impaired child to read and use the library can be very beneficial, as well as challenging. Check with your local library or state library to find out what special services for hearing-impaired children are available in your area. Many libraries have staff members who use sign language or who are trained to work with hearing-impaired people. Some have information and referral services that may be called via Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDDs). Some even provide TDDs and Television Telecaption Decoders.
There are a variety of free library services available for children, as well as adults, who are blind or physically disabled. The National Library Service (NLS) of the Library of Congress provides the majority of such services. Working through a nationwide network of cooperating regional libraries, NLS offers Braille and talking book services free of charge to any person who is unable to read because of limited vision, who is physically unable to hold a book or turn a page, or who has been certified by a physician as having a reading disability due to an organic dysfunction.
You can apply to the regional library on behalf of your child. If you have any difficulty locating a participating library near you, ask for help at your local public library or write to the NLS (see "For More Information").
Although NLS has a larger collection for adults, its offerings for children are extensive. There are hundreds of children's books in Braille, print/Braille, cassette and disc formats. Included are picture books and popular fiction and nonfiction at varying levels of interest and difficulty for children from preschool through junior high. There are also children's magazines and even music instruction materials available. The philosophy behind NLS' efforts is that blind and physically handicapped children are entitled to the same range of reading materials as their nonhandicapped classmates and friends.
The same philosophy extends to their adult services, which are available to teenagers who read at the high school level and beyond. NLS is charged by Congress to provide only popular types of literature, so if you want textbooks or reference materials, check with NLS for other sources of assistance.
In addition, NLS offers a smaller collection of recorded and Braille books for children and adults in Spanish, bilingual formats, and other foreign languages (see " For More Information").
Library Services Postscript About Adult Services